About this Recording
2.110311 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - FRANCE: A Musical Visit to Provence and a Carnival of Animals (NTSC)

A Musical Visit to Provence and a Carnival of Animals
With music by Georges Bizet and Camille Saint-Saëns



FRANCE Arles: Arena, Roman Theatre and Nôtre-Dame de la Major

The town of Arles had commercial and naval importance under the Romans, notably from the middle of the first century BC, when it replaced Marseille in significance. There is a Roman theatre, dating from the first to third centuries AD, and a larger arena or amphitheatre, the latter used for bull-fights during the summer. The arena is surrounded by two surviving tiers of arches, with columns surmounted by Doric and Corinthian capitals. The Church of Nôtre-Dame de la Major dates from the twelfth century, with additions and changes made in the sixteenth. It was built on the site of an older church, the scene of a Council of the Church in 452.

Music Bizet: L’Arlésienne, Suite No 1 – I Prélude

In the theatre the melodrama L’Arlésienne a collaboration with Alphonse Daudet, was unsuccessful, partly because the audience expected a straight play and consequently took exception to music which, in any case, some found positively Wagnerian. From the score Bizet drew his Suite No 1, rewriting and rescoring the music for a larger group of players. The Prélude, originally for string quartet, was simply re-orchestrated. The suite won immediate success in the concert hall.


FRANCE Fontvieille: Alphonse Daudet’s Mill

The French writer Alphonse Daudet was born at Nîmes in 1840, a native, therefore, of Provence, a region that strongly influenced his writing. Among his best known works is Lettres de mon moulin (Letters from My Mill), a series of sketches of life in Provence, published in Le Figaro in 1866. The mill that now bears his name contains items devoted to the memory of the writer, who actually wrote the famous letters in Paris, although he certainly spent time in the village of Fontvieille.

Music Bizet: L’Arlésienne, Suite No 1 – II Menuet

The Minuet, originally an Intermezzo, was re-orchestrated for the first suite from L’Arlésienne.


FRANCE Eygalières: Chapel of St Sixtus

The Chapel of St Sixtus, near the village of Eygalières, near the road from St-Rémy to Cavaillon in Provence, dates from the twelfth century. St Sixtus was elected Pope in 257 and martyred the following year and is venerated as one of the early martyrs of the Church.

Music Bizet: L’Arlésienne, Suite No 1 – III Adagietto

In the theatre the Adagietto was originally for string quartet and accompanied by spoken dialogue.


FRANCE Les Alpilles

The hills and rocky outcrops of the region near St-Rémy are known as Les Alpilles. The land provides pasture in a pleasing and often dramatic landscape.

Music Bizet: L’Arlésienne, Suite No 1 – IV Carillon

Carillon brings the sound of bells and includes a middle section taken from elsewhere in the score.


FRANCE Les Alpilles

Again Les Alpilles offer a landscape characteristic in its vegetation and colouring, familiar from the paintings of artists such as Cézanne, a native of Aix-en-Provence. Arles itself provided a later place of residence for both Van Gogh and Gauguin, until the former’s final madness and period of treatment in St-Rémy.

Music Bizet: L’Arlésienne, Suite No 2 – I Pastorale

The second suite was arranged by Bizet’s friend Ernest Guiraud after the composer’s death.


FRANCE Arles: Arena

The amphitheatre at Arles is among the best preserved of its kind and is the largest such structure north of the Alps. It was originally surrounded by three tiers of arches, of which only two now survive, and can hold some 20,000 spectators.

Music Bizet: L’Arlésienne, Suite No 2 – II Intermezzo

The Intermezzo was originally an entr’acte, now slightly expanded.


FRANCE Les Alpilles

The Chaine des Alpilles stretches from St-Rémy to Eyragues, passing the once important fortified town of Les Baux-de-Provence. The whole district holds some of the oldest significant Greco-Roman archeological remains in France.

Music Bizet: L’Arlésienne, Suite No 2 – III Menuet

Guiraud took the Minuet from Bizet’s music for the opera The Fair Maid of Perth.


FRANCE Arles: Fête des Gardians

The wild district known as the Camargue, with its manades of bulls and horses, the latter white in colour and relatively small, supposedly a relic of Saracen invasions, is managed by the traditional gardians of the area. Their skills of horsemanship are celebrated in traditional festivities in the arena.

Music Bizet: L’Arlésienne, Suite No 2 – IV Farandole

Guiraud expands the Farandole, including with it other elements from the score.


FRANCE Lions at the Réserve Africaine de Sigean

The African Reserve of Sigean is situated some miles to the west of Narbonne, in relatively inhospitable territory.

Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals – I Introduction and Royal March of the Lion

Camille Saint-Saëns’ popular Carnival of the Animals, described as A Zoological Fantasy, was written in 1886, originally for two pianos and chamber orchestra, to celebrate the carnival season that year, intended rather as a private joke than anything for a wider public. Saint-Saëns forbade further performances of the work, apart from The Swan, which he published and which has won enduring popularity, whether in the concert hall or on the ballet stage. Two pianos open the Carnival, suggesting the roar of the lions before the Royal March begins.


SWITZERLAND Hens and cockerels at Knie’s Children’s Zoo, Rapperswil

The small Swiss town of Rapperswil is within relatively easy reach of Zurich. The Knie Children’s Zoo is a popular attraction.

Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals – II Hens and Cockerels

Hens and cockerels are true to nature.


SWITZERLAND Donkeys at Knie’s Children’s Zoo, Rapperswil

Docile donkeys offer further attractions at Knie’s Children’s Zoo.

Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals – III Wild Asses

The wild donkeys of the Carnival are amazingly nimble.


FRANCE Tortoises at the Réserve Africaine de Sigean

The tortoises of the Sigean Reserve enjoy relative freedom in their own way.

Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals – IV Tortoises

The sluggish tortoises move to a lugubrious can-can, with the occasional slip.


FRANCE Elephants at the Réserve Africaine de Sigean

Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals – V The Elephant

The elephant, represented by the double bass, derives his material from the inappropriate Dance of the Sylphs by Berlioz.


FRANCE Kangaroos at the Réserve Africaine de Sigean and fish at the Seaquarium, Grau du Roi, Port-Camargue

Le Grau du Roi is a small fishing port at the mouth of one of the canals leading from the Rhône, on the coast of the Camargue, near the developing resort of Port-Camargue.

Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals – VI Kangaroos & VII Aquarium

Kangaroos leap to the sound of the pianos, followed by the dreamy goldfish and seahorses of the aquarium.


SWITZERLAND Hares and rabbits at Knie’s Children’s Zoo, Rapperswil

Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals – VIII People with Long Ears

For Saint-Saëns the people with long ears are unpopular critics, rather than hares, hence their braying and whistles.


SWITZERLAND Woodland, near Zurich

Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals – IX The Cuckoo in the Depths of the Woods

The cuckoo is heard in characteristic fashion.


Switzerland: Aviary at Knie’s Children’s Zoo, Rapperswil

Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals: X Aviary

The rest of the aviary follows, assisted by the flute.


SWITZERLAND Tonhalle, Zurich, and portraits of composers

The Tonhalle-Gesellschaft was established in Zurich in the 1860s and the Tonhalle Orchestra remains one of the leading orchestras in Switzerland. The concert hall that is the home of the orchestra dates from rather later in the century.

Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals – XI Pianists & XII Fossils

Pianists inevitably practice their scales, while fossils, equally unusual in any carnival procession, are unfairly represented pictorially by portraits of composers, including Mozart, Rossini, Beethoven and Saint-Saëns himself, and musically by the dry sounds of the xylophone.



Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals – XIII The Swan

The swan sings her dying song to the sound of the cello.



Music Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals – XIV Finale

The fantasy ends with a summary of much that has gone before.

Keith Anderson


‘L’Arlesienne’ Suites 1 & 2: Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Anthony Bramall
[Naxos 8.550061 (with ‘Carmen’ Suites 1 & 2)]

‘Carnival of the Animals’: Marián Lapšanský & Peter Toperczer, pianos, Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Ondrej Lenárd
[Naxos 8.550499 (with ‘Peter and the Wolf’ & ‘Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’)]

Close the window